Lapa Breaks Through
In recent years, Lapa has exploded as the hip place to go for vibrant nightlife. On either end of the Lapa night scene are unique nightclubs, Carioca de Gema and Rio Scenarium. Carioca de Gema is a renaissance of the downtown of Rio in one of its hippest posts. In these clubs, 19th and 18th century architecture meets Rio’s cool, artsy crowd. The streets are lined with sidewalk cafes where cariocas gather for hours to indulge in chi chi chi (banter and chatter). The district’s street parties are among the most famous of Rio’s party attractions, and crowds gather in droves Thursday through Saturday from around 10 am until 4 or 5 pm as a celebration of what it is to be a carioca. Partiers will wander from street bar to street bar, enjoying the music and the unique vibes of the city. Between the clubs and the street parties, the district comes alive with thousands of Generation X cariocas out for a good time, a couple of caipirinhas, and a lot of paquera (flirting). You’ll find all sorts of entertainment lining the streets—from rock bands and hip hop to samba circles, the parties encompass all aspects of carioca culture. Cariocas recognize Lapa as the site where samba was reborn. Away from the often jading middle-class nightlife, the streets of Lapa come alive with music of local musicians who have resurrected a lost art.
“When the people rent my apartments ask where to head for nightlife I always tell them: On Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays it’s Lapa,” says Dan Babush, President of RentinRio.com. “There’s something with great music for everyone—from Gen X to Gen Y to Boomers. A couple of caipirinhas and you samba without a care and everyone will be teaching you new steps.”
“Rio Scenarium is particularly interesting,” says Dan, “as it is loaded with old antiques that are not for sale, paintings from years before, and three floors where you can wander around amazing artifacts from Rio’s past, along with one of the best samba scenes in Rio.”
Ideally, Lapa deserves three nights: One night for the Rio Scenarium area; one night for Deco do Rato, an area which is excellent to bop around (have the taxi drop you in front of Theatro Odisséia); and one night for Lapa 40° on Rua do Riachuelo, the hot new place for samba. Rio Scenarium is a great place for Boomers and Gen Xers to experience samba. Next door to Rio Scenarium is Santo Scenarium, a more Gen X and Gen Y club that plays less samba and has more of a new beat. Boomers will also like Estrela da Lapa and Carioca da Gema—but there is something for everyone in Lapa and it will take no time to find it.
Chris Nogueiro, writer of Rio for Partiers, says, “Lapa is something that happened out of nowhere. Out of a completely dead area and dead scene grew a particularly hot expression of Rio’s carefree way of being. And it stuck. Lapa is on its way towards being a world-class nightspot area.”
A Hidden Historical Haven
Among all the vibrant neighborhoods of Rio de Janeiro, Lapa has held on to an aura of historical soul and the vibrant spontaneity of parties untouched by commercial tourism. One of the hidden treasures of a Brazil, Lapa is a small, gorgeous district once known as the “Montmartre of the Tropics.” The town is centered on the Largo da Lapa, a picturesque plaza of architecture which barely survived centuries of intermittent periods of progress and civil unrest. One of Lapa’s most famous attractions is the Carioca aqueduct, also known as the Arcos da Lapa, a remarkable structure built in the mid-18th century by colonial authorities. Since the end of the 19th century, the aqueduct has served as a bridge for a tram that connects the city center with the Santa Teresa neighborhood. Another famous historical site is the Passeio Público, Brazil’s oldest public park. Built in 1779 to glorify the new colonial capital, the park is also one of the oldest public parks in the Americas. During the 20th century, the whole historical center of Rio—including the Passeio Público —fell into decay. In 2001 the city’s municipal government began a project to renovate the park and restore its historic beauty.
There’s little to recommend in Lapa during the day, except for the Escada de Selaron and the antique stores on the Rio de Lavradio (great turn-of-the-20th century antiques at really low prices can be found there). When the party dies down, visitors can walk to the Lapa staircase (Escada Selaron) and view the work of Chilean painter Selaron. Since 1983, when the 215 steps were covered in blue, green and yellow tiles (the colors of the Brazilian flag), the artist has constantly changed them to include contributions from more than 60 countries around the world. Selaron calls the stairway his “great madness” and claims he will never stop working on it until the day he dies.-Jennifer Bunin